Category Archives: Living in Beaufort, NC

Crew Wanted

In a recent post, I mentioned a boat hailing from HAMBURG – GER. There’s another boat here, with a similar name — for the purposes of this story, I’ll call it FRANKFURTER. For some reason, the owner doesn’t have a name; he goes by the name of the boat. We’ll call him “Frankfurter,” too.

For the past few years, Frankfurter and FRANKFURTER have gone south for the winter and returned to Bock to store the boat in the summers. The man always sets off with a crew of four: Himself, Jack, and two crew members he rounds up somehow, probably on the internet. Each year, Jack and Frankfurter return, sans crew.

Laid-back Jack laughs and shrugs, “He’s impossible. I’m the only one who can put up with him.”

This year, Jack wasn’t available, so Mr. Frankfurter rounded up three crew members on the internet. The first one to arrive was a very experienced sailor who worked diligently alongside the captain to make fiberglass repairs and paint the bottom. A few days later came a wide-eyed, clean-cut young man from Europe who didn’t have offshore experience, but was even harder-working than the first. By now, the first one had been driven to drink — I caught her hiding under FLUTTERBY one day, sneaking a drink from a pocket flask.

We told the first crew member, Ziga, that she need not drink alone. With that, she brought her sense of humor and excellent sea stories to the nightly happy hour gathering. She positioned her chair behind Jack’s keel, directly across from FRANKFURTER, so she could keep an eye on her boat without being seen by her captain.

One evening, she peered around Jack’s keel as her captain’s car returned from town. “Oooh, that’s our new crew member,” she said. “Captain’s really looking forward to this one. She’s a dominatrix.”

This took me by such surprise that I swallowed the wrong way and started coughing. Surely I’d heard that wrong? “What!?” I squeaked. Ziga explained, matter-of-factly, “A dominatrix. You know, whips and chains? The captain calls her ‘the fetish lady.'”

We all peeked around Jack’s keel as the captain — who rarely bathed, according to Jack —  helped a good-looking blonde woman out of the car. The young clean-cut crewman went to the trunk for her luggage. What he pulled out was not the usual sailor’s duffel bag, but a crate you could use for carrying chains and things made out of studded leather. There was something black dangling from her pocket. “Is that a whip?” I asked the group, ducking nervously out of sight.

It was a well-known fact that the captain didn’t dare stop at any port before Key West, for fear that his crew would jump ship. And so the betting began. Would the dominatrix and the clean-cut guy make it to Key West? Would Ziga make it through the winter with a captain who rarely bathed?

When FRANKFURTER was ready to go, several of us pressed our email addresses into Ziga’s hand. “Good luck. Let us know what happens. Please!”

The results were nothing short of spectacular. By that, I mean the three-page email we received from Ziga a few days later.

The email spread around the boatyard like wildfire and was forwarded to friends and cruisers all over the world. Her synopsis went like this: “Landlubber equivalent of this boat trip:  Drive an old car that is loaded with junk like the Beverly Hillbillies, with bald tires, faulty brakes and windshield wipers that only work when the sun is out.  And the driver really does not care which side of the road he drives on…..”

Before the boat had even left Beaufort inlet, it was taking on water uncontrollably, and they’d deployed the anchor and nearly lost it. From the email: “Hey, Captain, the bitter end of the anchor rode is not secure! DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT, says Captain Frankfurter.”

Then the young clean-cut fellow was knocked overboard by the captain (the boat has no lifelines), and the PFDs were all buried under piles of junk. “Hey, Captain, can we clear some of this clutter and clear the decks? DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT, says Captain Frankfurter.”

Out in the ocean, they set a course for Key West. However, at one point, the captain accidentally started sailing north. The dominatrix fixed that, but the email didn’t say how. I suspect a whip was involved.

After the first day, Ziga wrote, “Told Captain that I was leaving the boat as soon as we reached shore.  Told him flat out that he was trying to kill me, and that just won’t do.” This is the woman who was planning to stay aboard all winter.

On page 2, she described how almost every part of the boat, including the charts and food, was soaked from leaks. Only the aft cabin was dry. On page 3, she wrote, “Aft cabin now mostly soggy, because Captain left the toilet on water intake….flooded his own boat. All three of us have now told Captain that we want off of the boat.”

The young clean-cut crew member had been incapacitated by seasickness the entire time, including 20 hours passed out in the aft cabin (before the captain flooded it with water from the toilet). Towards the end of the ordeal, when he perked up, Ziga wrote, “He is a charming fellow, when he does not have his head in the black bucket.  That bucket has been his constant companion for a long time.”

This paragraph just about sums it up:

“Engine died just after the sun set. Under the jib, can only sail 330 degrees, boat won’t turn any farther east. The Auto-pilot won’t completely release the wheel.  Heading way out into the Gulf Stream now, way, way off course. Cabin is trashed. Unsecured stuff crashing around everywhere. DONT WORRY ABOUT IT, says Captain Frankfurter. Tools, knives and boat parts left wherever Captain sets them. This is the first boat I have ever sailed on where I have to wear shoes below decks, or risk serious injury.”

With a tragedy like this, the betting pool didn’t have a chance. We had argued over which crew members would make it to Key West, not whether or not they’d survive the first 84 hours. None of us expected the boat to issue a Mayday call and be rescued by the Coast Guard. No one bet that they’d be towed into Southport, a mere 100 miles from here.

According to Ziga, despite the loss of his crew and near-loss of his boat, the captain is committed to continuing on. What she didn’t say was how he would find more crew.

I know exactly what he’d say if I asked: DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.

Special thanks to Ziga for sharing the story and allowing me to excerpt it here. If you are ever looking for good crew, I’ll put you in touch with her. I have her email address…it’s at the top of that hilarious 3-page email message.

Messing about with boat … brokers

In the middle of the boatyard, across from the Travelift, is a nightly gathering we call “happy hour.” It’s a misnomer, because it lasts a lot longer than an hour. Sometimes, it goes on all night, in which case it should be called “happy hours.” (That reminds me, there was once a boat here by that name. That story will come later.)

One evening last week, when I was alone on the boat, I poured myself a beverage and decided to take it to Happy Hour. I hate to drink alone, even if it’s just orange juice.

The usual suspects were sitting in a circle under Jack’s boat, four or five guys who take turns filling a communal cooler with exceedingly cheap beer. All of them are either single or abandoned by their wives for the duration of the haulout. The appearance of a human with two X chromosomes changes the dynamic slightly, as they sit up a little straighter and stop making fart jokes.

On this particular evening, we saw Peter, of GALAXIE, walking across the boatyard lugging a heavy item. “That looks like an alternator,” I said. The usual suspects looked at me with respect. Two X chromosomes, and she can pick out an alternator a block away. (They don’t know about the time one got dropped on my hand and smashed my wedding ring. I had it cut off, because it was no longer finger-shaped. The ring, not the finger.)

When Peter reached our group, the usual suspects said, “Have a beer with us.” With a sigh of relief, he set the alternator on a sturdy stepstool at the edge of the circle.

Peter, whose homeport is HAMBURG – GER, has a heavy German accent and a twinkle in his eye. Soon, we were all recounting our best alternator horror stories with much hilarity.

Along came a boat broker, intrigued by this jovial — and loud — gathering. “You guys must not get much work done,” said the man, who wore neatly pressed khakis, leather boat shoes, and a shirt with a collar. There was not a single drop of paint or epoxy on him.

Now, I have nothing against boat brokers — some of my favorite people sell boats for a living — but his comment put my hackles up. There we were, tired and messy from a day of physical labor, and he strolls up and impugns our work ethic.

I scowled at him. “You may not realize it, sir, but you’ve interrupted a very important religious ceremony,” I said, sternly. I can be quite a dragon when I choose, although the bright yellow Tweetie Bird sweatshirt diminishes the effect slightly.

The broker’s smile faltered, and he stopped, unsure if he was welcome. The other guys looked at me as if I’d sprouted another head. They’ve all seen me in dragon mode, and they know that I can bite.

I had the broker right where I wanted him. He was standing in front of the stepstool.

“Before you can come any further, you must pay homage to the ALTAR…” I said dramatically, pointing at the stepstool. The guys now looked at me as if I’d sprouted three heads, and I added: “…NATOR.”

My punchline was so unexpected that the usual suspects choked on their beer. Best of all, the boat broker was impressed enough that he actually did bow deeply, both to Peter’s alternator — and to me.

The man who works at the end of the world

When we stopped in the boatyard office to pick up our mail this morning, we mentioned to Carolyn that we were planning to drive to the Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge today. “Oh, you’re going to the end of the world, then,” she said, matter-of-factly.

Google map of the end of the world
Google map of the end of the world
When a native of Beaufort, which is by definition a frontier, tells you you’re headed to the end of the world, the comment is not to be taken lightly. In case you don’t know where the frontier is, we heard this from an expert on the subject, Bill Brown: The frontier is any place more than two hours driving distance from an interstate.

In preparation for our trip to the end of the world, we packed energy bars, water, and lots of cameras. The gas tank was full, and we had lots of great music on the car stereo.

I spent some time on the internet, looking for information about the wildlife refuge. Although it looked large on the map, I couldn’t find any roads or trails within it. I figured that was an oversight by Google Maps. We are talking end of the world here.

Outside of Beaufort, there’s a sign that makes us laugh. It reads:
Sea Level 27
Atlantic 30

It’s not meant to be facetious. It’s a green highway sign — 27 miles to the town of Sea Level, and 30 miles to the town of Atlantic. Neither one is actually the end of the world, but they’re close.

Cedar Island isn’t actually the end of the world, either. There’s a ferry terminal there, and the boat to Ocracoke is crowded with tourists and residents and even semi trucks. However, the strip mall near the ferry is in a state between fading and crumbling, and all the shops have failed. There’s an old motel, with gaps in the roof where there used to be shingles.

The town of Cedar Island has about 300 residents, and fishing is a major source of income. In one front yard, a husband and wife were repairing green fishing nets, using the same sort of gear we learned about when we sailed to Juneau, Alaska. Down the block, a father and son were stretching their brown nets out in the driveway for repairs.

A few blocks from Goodwin Ridge Road, we drove past the Oscar B. Goodwin Family Cemetery. There are five Goodwin homes on the island over 100 years old. And the Goodwins are still living here, as evidenced by a sign for Goodwin’s Guide Service.

As we drove through town, a dog darted out in the road. He was agitated, and when I stopped, I saw that he was chasing the red pickup truck in front of us. He kept running at top speed for over a quarter mile, barking at the truck. Finally, the truck pulled over and the dog jumped in the back. They were trying to go someplace without him, and the dog just wasn’t going to put up with that!

This cemetery is in the front yard of someone's single-wide mobile home
This cemetery is in the front yard of someone's single-wide mobile home

We finally found the end of the world when we turned toward the refuge office. Trees draped with Spanish moss hung over the road, and there were a few small houses and a single-wide mobile home with a front yard full of 19th-century tombstones.

A couple of miles down Lola Road, I slowed to a crawl, trying to figure out a strange sight. It was a riding mower in the left lane, with a rounded plaid object sticking out of it. It took me a second to realize the plaid object was a man’s derriere. He was repairing the mower right there in the road.

At the end of the road, we found an information kiosk with a map, but like Google Maps, it showed no roads into the refuge. We decided to go into the nondescript cinder block building and ask.

The view from the end of the world
The view from the end of the world

This is where we met the man who works at the end of the world. Kevin Keeler, a tall man with a gray ponytail and an easy laugh, had a long career with the Department of Defense, at one point supervising about 50 people. But they cut back on staff before he was ready to retire, so seven years ago, he took his current job with the Department of the Interior.

Kevin Keeler, the man who works at the end of the world
Kevin Keeler, the man who works at the end of the world

Now Keeler works alone. Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge has a staff of one, and he is it. He manages 14,400 acres, doing everything from paperwork to mowing to “cleaning the shitter,” as he puts it. His title, a complete understatement, is “Maintenance Worker!”

The end of the world has an interesting history. In 1964, the federal government acquired the land for the refuge. There was a town then, called Lola, adjacent to the refuge. In 1967, in a reaction to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Navy used the right of eminent domain to take the 16 homes that made up Lola. They demolished the houses and put up a radar dish that could see south and east, just out of range of the Cuban missiles of the day.

Within three years, the Navy no longer needed the once-critical facility. By then, we’d put a man on the moon, and they were probably getting better information from satellites than the archaic land-based radar. They transferred the facility to the Department of the Interior — the Wildlife Refuge. Which is why local folks sometimes say, “The wildlife refuge took my granddaddy’s land.” Not precisely.

For about 19 years, there was a man in charge of the refuge. Then they consolidated the various refuges as a cost-saving measure. For Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge, that meant closing the office and leaving the place to fend for itself for 15 years. After all, it was a wildlife refuge, not a people refuge.

When they hired Keeler in 2003, he found the building covered in vines and filled with several feet of silt. Across the street, one of the Navy buildings had to be demolished as a safety hazard. Worst of all, the refuge had become a dumping site. He described the trash he found: “Washers, dryers, construction equipment, cars…and the tires!”

A local Outward Bound group helped clean up the tires. “You know how many we found, just between here and the highway?” Keeler asked. “Two hundred and eighty-seven, and eighty-five of them were still on the rims!”

In addition to giving us the history, Keeler showed us how to get into the refuge. We parked on the highway and walked along one of the fire breaks, marked on the map as “unimproved trails.” We had the place to ourselves, and the only sound accompanying our footsteps was the wind sighing in the trees.

On this warm, sunny day, the end of the world was a very good place to be.

Later, we found out we’d been incredibly lucky. The real reason nobody goes into the wildlife refuge, besides a lack of trails and roads and facilities and promotion? Mosquitoes!

According to Carolyn, Cedar Island is the worst place in the area for mosquitoes. “There are so many, they’ll carry you away,” she said. Yet we didn’t see a single one. We just happened to go during that tiny window between winter and spring, when the mosquitoes hadn’t hatched yet.

I’ll worry a little bit about Keeler, though. There he is, at the end of the world, but he’s not alone. He’s surrounded by hordes of giant blood-thirsty mosquitoes, and one of these days, they just might carry him away.

Barry hiking in the wildlife refuge
Barry hiking in the wildlife refuge
Margaret and her Dad hiking in the wildlife refuge
Margaret and her Dad hiking in the wildlife refuge

12 meatloaves walk into a bar

As a man named Grey told me, “It started with a beer.” He could have been speaking of many regrettable activities. In this case, he was referring to the judging process for the “Backstreet Pub’s first (hopefully annual) Meatloaf Off.”

When pub owner Liz Kopf sent an email promoting the event, that’s exactly what she called it — first (hopefully annual). How refreshingly honest! As my pappy, the editor, told me, you should never say “first annual” in a news story. An event is not actually annual until it happens the second year.

As a food writer, I was super-excited by the prospect of a meatloaf competition. I pictured myself running around with my little notebook and pencil, documenting the judging process and interviewing the winners. Perhaps I could get a scoop and publish the winning meatloaf recipe in the Foodie Gazette!

When we arrived, the bartender told me that the judging was upstairs, and no one was allowed up there. I was crestfallen. “Not even members of the Press?” I asked. He rolled his eyes at my impertinence and went to take someone else’s order. I entertained myself by playing with my camera.

Marilyn, Philip, and Barry wait for winners to be announced
Marilyn, Philip, and Barry wait for winners to be announced
The Backstreet Pub has great ambience, now that it's non-smoking
The Backstreet Pub has great ambience, now that it's non-smoking

A few minutes later, as I was cooling my heels, one of the judges came down the stairs. He was not much of an interview subject, though, being a dog.

The first judge descends the staircase
The first judge descends the staircase

Finally, the other judges came down and announced the winners. I was standing beside the third-place winner, a woman named Donna, and I congratulated her and asked how it felt. She shrugged. Then she saw my camera, scowled, and turned her back, saying, “No photos.”

Disappointed, I turned to one of the judges, a man named Grey.

“How did you get selected to be a judge?” I asked.

“I’m the bar-owner’s boyfriend,” he said.

“Er, that’s nice,” I said, lamely. He returned to his beer.

At this point, I decided interviewing people was hard. Eating meatloaf would be easier. I joined the crowd making its way up the narrow spiral staircase.

Upstairs, folks were lined up, plates in hand, to taste the 12 meatloaf-off contenders. I took a small spoonful of each, along with some mashed potatoes and some sort of spinach dish. Afterwards, I talked with first place winner Kathy Roberts and second place winner James Lewis about their winning entries.

Kathy’s meatloaf was based on an old recipe published by Kellogg’s cornflakes. Instead of baking it in a loaf pan, she pressed the mixture into muffin tins, making small, round meatloaves. I’m sure her lettuce-lined platter got the highest score for presentation, before the hungry crowd descended upon it.

First place winner, Kathy Roberts
First place winner, Kathy Roberts

Kathy’s topping was not only delicious, it was nice and thick. She had basted each loaf at least three times during baking with a mixture of chili sauce, brown sugar, and catsup.

James’ meatloaf, which took second place, had a secret ingredient: Klaussen’s Sauerkraut. He used a basic meatloaf recipe with oatmeal for filler, pressed half of it into a pan, and then covered it with a layer of sauerkraut. On top of this, he put a mixture of one part stone ground mustard, one part yellow mustard, and one part honey. He covered this with the rest of the meatloaf and topped it with catsup.

I asked James where he got the recipe.

Second place winner, James Lewis
Second place winner, James Lewis

“I’m a computer tech,” he said. “A few years ago, I went to somebody’s house to work on their computer, and they were making dinner while I was there. I saw them putting the sauerkraut in the middle of the meatloaf, and I thought, ‘Sauerkraut? What the heck?'” But I went home and tried it, and I’ve been making it this way ever since.”

Kevin arrived late, and most of the meatloaf was gone. There was still beer.
Kevin arrived late, and most of the meatloaf was gone. There was still beer.
"They licked the platters clean!"
"They licked the platters clean!"

At the end of the evening, I realized I was not cut out to be a hard-core journalist. First of all, I found it easier to interview meatloaf than people. Secondly, I was not objective. I preferred James’ meatloaf over Kathy’s, and I thought the spinach was better than all the meatloaves! Most importantly, I had failed to answer the key question: Who brought the spinach dish?

A few days after the event, I ran into a woman named Denise who I knew from around town. She’d been at the Meatloaf Off, where she told me about the prior competition — a macaroni and cheese contest. She was also brainstorming on the next one, which might be a chicken soup contest. So it was natural for me to ask, “Did you have anything to do with organizing the meatloaf competition?”

“Oh, no,” she said, “I just brought the spinach souffle.”

And that’s how I got the recipe for what I consider the REAL winner of the “Backstreet Pub’s first (hopefully annual) Meatloaf Off”: Denise’s Mom’s Spinach Souffle.

Dancing like a bunch of monkeys in the snow

Margaret and Barry at Mardi Gras in Gloucester, NC
Margaret and Barry at Mardi Gras in Gloucester, NC

There’s nothing like a little publicity to mess up a great local event. That must be what the folks in Gloucester, North Carolina were thinking when their down-east Mardi Gras celebration got written up in Our State magazine. As one volunteer confided, “We were hoping for a little bad weather, to keep the numbers down.”

Be careful what you ask for! The evening before the event, Mother Nature dumped an unprecedented foot of snow on the area. This was not a little bad weather. For an area where snow shovels are rare (we saw people raking their driveways), it was a LOT.

Still, Barry and I were only 15 miles down the road, and we had four-wheel drive. It was no problem to drive to Gloucester, a tiny town about as close to the end of the road as you’re likely to get. Our route was lined with snowmen, including one wearing a bikini!

When we arrived, we found friendly folks serving up seafood gumbo with big ol’ crab legs, chunks of fried turkey, red beans and rice, and king cake. Everyone seemed to be wearing a silly mask or hat, so our colorful outfits fit right in. “Wait a minute,” said Pam, when we ran into her, “don’t y’all live on a sailboat? Where do you keep those costumes?”

And then someone shouted, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” and rowdy dancing began. It was the zydeco band Unknown Tongues, who had started this community Mardi Gras celebration 18 years ago. They set our feet and hearts dancing, right there in that wacky North Carolina snow, especially when they played “You’re Gonna Look Like a Monkey When You Get Old.”

(Weird, small, coincidental world! I just realized, when I read the Our State article, that proceeds from Mardi Gras go to the Woodrow Price Scholarship Fund. That would be the same Woodrow Price I wrote about almost a year ago, when my Dad came to visit.)

Margaret poses with the Official Mardi Gras Snowperson
Margaret poses with the Official Mardi Gras Snowperson
The first people we met were the best-dressed of the whole event
The first people we met were the best-dressed of the whole event
Barry and a new friend practice their flashing technique
Barry and a new friend practice their flashing technique
Barry liked both the front and back of this headpiece
Barry liked both the front and back of this headpiece
Margaret poses with a bumper sticker that's perfect for her
Margaret poses with a bumper sticker that's perfect for her
This kind fellow passed out a taste of gumbo to the folks waiting in the food line
This kind fellow passed out a taste of gumbo to the folks waiting in the food line
This fellow knew how to accessorize, with a tiny ukelele and a rubboard tie
This fellow knew how to accessorize, with a tiny ukelele and a rubboard tie
The tooth fairy came, with plenty of teeth and dental implements to share
The tooth fairy came, with plenty of teeth and dental implements to share
Great sunglasses
Great sunglasses
Proud lady in a feather mask
Proud lady in a feather mask
This lady makes a special mask for the event each year
This lady makes a special mask for the event each year
This tie was so bright, it practically glowed green
This tie was so bright, it practically glowed green
Man in feathers
Man in feathers
This elegant costume didn't stop her from dancing at all
Don't let the elegant brocade jacket fool you -- this lady could DANCE
Two masked ladies caught in the unladylike act of eating gumbo
Two masked ladies caught in the unladylike act of eating gumbo
The bonfire was necessary to thaw us out for dancing
The bonfire was necessary to thaw us out for dancing

Dancing like a bunch of monkeys in the snow from Margaret Meps Schulte on Vimeo.

Tastes like chicken

Last fall, I went to Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, not because the town’s name is so cool, but to document an amazing chicken pot pie recipe. I’ve been raving about Pennsylvania Dutch pot pie ever since.

A couple of weeks ago, Barry found leftover Christmas turkey and gravy in the fridge. Could it be turned into pot pie?

“Hmmm, I don’t know,” I said. “Making it from turkey instead of chicken might be sacrilege.”

Barry just looked at me and waited.

“All right,” I sighed. “But you have to watch the video first.” So we sat down and watched the Pot Pie Nirvana video. This put me in the mood and showed Barry the technique.

Then we rolled up our sleeves and made pot pie together in our tiny boat galley. This proves that two people can cook almost anything in a kitchen with less than three feet each of counter space and floor space, if they are extremely patient and affectionate with each other.

Barry shows off the dough in the bowl. It was cold enough to wear our Santa hats inside the boat.
Barry shows off the dough in the bowl. It was cold enough to wear our Santa hats inside the boat.
Barry rolling out the noodles. This shows just how tiny our galley is -- Barry's working on top of the icebox, next to the stove.
Barry rolling out the noodles. This shows just how tiny our galley is -- Barry's working on top of the icebox, next to the stove.
Barry's using our rolling pin on top of a silicone mat to roll the noodles.
Barry's using our rolling pin on top of a silicone mat to roll the noodles.
Barry uses a plastic knife to cut the dough into square noodles.
Barry uses a plastic knife to cut the dough into square noodles.
Barry cutting the noodles on the silicone mat.
Barry cutting the noodles on the silicone mat.
Margaret made some of the noodles, too.
Margaret made some of the noodles, too.
Dropping the handmade noodles into turkey broth. For a pot, we used a pressure cooker without the lid.
Dropping the handmade noodles into turkey broth. For a pot, we used a pressure cooker without the lid.
Margaret blows on the spoon before testing the pot pie. Burning her tongue at this point would be a tragedy.
Margaret blows on the spoon before testing the pot pie. Burning her tongue at this point would be a tragedy.
Margaret stirs in leftover turkey from Christmas dinner.
Margaret stirs in leftover turkey from Christmas dinner.
Meps is ready to eat her pot pie. The beverage of choice is a Mike's Lemonade, in honor of Mike, who introduced us to pot pie.
Meps is ready to eat her pot pie. The beverage of choice is a Mike's Lemonade, in honor of the guy who introduced us to pot pie.
I'm ready to eat! Stop taking pictures and sit down!
I'm ready to eat! Stop taking pictures and sit down!

Everything but the Christmas tree

About a week ago, I wrote about our decision to stay here in the boatyard for the holidays. At the time, I was feeling sorry for myself, and my tone was so wistful that friends and family responded with consoling emails (my favorite was the invitation from Australia).

Then the celebrating started, and I forgot to be sad.

My dictionary defines “jamboree” as “a large celebration or party, typically a lavish and boisterous one.” Some definitions involve Boy Scouts or country music.

One of our holiday activities was attending the Christmas show at the Crystal Coast Jamboree with the Bock family, boatyard employees, and liveaboards. But the real jamboree was the evening’s dinner, held at a Japanese steakhouse. The chefs flipped and twirled and tossed the food to us as though we were trained seals. At one point, Kenny egged Dale into eating some wasabi for the first time. “DAMN!” he exploded, practically spitting sushi. “What IS that stuff?”

Our solstice bonfire - Barry, John, Marilyn, Philip
Our solstice bonfire - Barry, John, Marilyn, Philip

The days grew shorter and the nights longer. On December 21st, we celebrated the Solstice with a bonfire — well, actually a little campfire on the edge of the sandblasting pit. We ate roasted weenies, melted cheese sandwiches, and toasted marshmallows. Most importantly, we ran a 100-foot extension cord and plugged in a crockpot full of mulled wine. We were warmed inside and out.

It takes more than food and fire to properly celebrate the Solstice, though. This is the window between the lunar and solar new years, when evil spirits inhabit the earth and must be kept at bay by merriment and partying. At least, that’s what Philip of Oryoki said.

Our merriment included dancing around the fire in leafy green headdresses and playing some extremely loud percussion. “Extremely” means that some steel boats are more fun to beat on than drums. We bid the moon farewell (guess who did so by actually mooning it) and listened to every song I could find in our collection about the sun. “Eu Quero Sol” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” were the most apropos.

Philip chases away evil spirits
Philip chases away evil spirits

Then came the event that was my real reason for staying over this Christmas: A North Carolina oyster roast. I stuffed myself on steamed oysters dipped in melted butter, and Barry ate multiple helpings of deer stew and hush puppies. Dale sucked down more hot vinegar sauce more than wasabi peas, though. Everyone was smiling as we stood around the fire barrel, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company without any of that silly boat work.

Meps gets ready to slurp an oyster
Meps gets ready to slurp an oyster
Warming ourselves around the fire
Warming ourselves around the fire

After the oyster roast, the boatyard closed for the holidays, but we kept the fires of holiday spirit bright, celebrating Christmas Eve and Christmas aboard our boats. Flutterby was chock-full of little wrapped gifts, sent from Washington and Florida and Oregon and Ohio, and cards — some of them homemade — from everywhere. Oryoki was decorated with garland and colored lights. We sported Santa hats around the boatyard and debated on which side the pom-pom should dangle.

Wonderful collection of cards
Wonderful collection of cards

Our Christmas dinner was a delightful sort of scavenger hunt — I got my 12-pound turkey out of the refrigerator on Ula G and took it to the lounge to wash it. Then we plopped it onto the huge propane grill that we’d rolled from Pelican (a monohull) to Oryoki (a catamaran) to keep it out of the rain. The turkey was just the centerpiece — the table on Oryoki groaned under cranberry sauce and stuffing and homemade rolls and veggies. The butterscotch pie waited out in the cockpit, and the whole thing was washed down with Marilyn’s homemade egg nog.

Happy couple at Christmas
I wore my Santa's helper lingerie all day on Christmas
Barry on Christmas Eve aboard Flutterby
Barry on Christmas Eve aboard Flutterby. Hot artichoke dip was a hit!
Nobody turned down the butterscotch pie
Nobody turned down the butterscotch pie with meringue topping (see Foodie Gazette for recipe)
Homemade eggnog by Marilyn - yum
Homemade eggnog by Marilyn - yum

Beginning on the 18th, each day the spirit of generosity and gratitude increased in my heart, until I felt like the Grinch — my heart was three sizes larger. I was connected to friends and loved ones all over the world, even when the phone stopped working for 24 hours on Christmas Day. There was so much love, right here! How could I ever feel wistful or sad? It was the best Christmas EVER.

Bunny pants on elf duty

We’ve done so much traveling this year, together and apart, that we decided to stay here in the boatyard for Christmas. Theoretically, we’re supposed to be working on the boat, although the weather and our respective cases of bronchitis are hampering our efforts. I hate the thought of coughing into my respirator.

I got a little sad this evening, thinking about our plan to stay here on the boat. Our liveliest boatyard neighbors, Charlie and Dick, have gone back to Ohio to be with family. Our best friends in town, Ted and Malla, slipped Ocean Gypsy’s lines and headed south for the winter on Monday. Between the four of them, they’ve left us two boats and ten vehicles. That’s enough to open a used car lot!

Bock Marine threw a fantastic Christmas party, but it was over too soon. They’ll be closing down for a whole week. Without Randy and Larry and Dale and Kenny, the place is dreadfully dull. Minutes seem like hours. And there isn’t even mail delivery to distract us. No Christmas cards. No packages. Sigh.

For me, the hardest thing will be simply spending these days without any family. We love Mom, both our Dads, Grandma, and all our siblings and nephews and niece — and we have never, ever, ever in our lives spent a Christmas without at least one of them. I spent some time today looking at photos and videos from past Christmases, seeing how the sheer joy of being together is reflected in our faces. Not this year. Sigh.

A few days ago, I received an email asking what my favorite Christmas traditions were. I was initially stumped, having no decorations, no lights, no tree. With two people, how can we eat a whole butterscotch pie and a roast turkey? I sat here, sighing, in my Santa hat, wondering if I even have Christmas traditions this year.

You can leave your hat on Santa meets the Death BunniesIn my Santa hat? There’s a tradition! We wear our Santa hats all the time in December. When it’s warm, don’t come on the boat — we might not be wearing anything with them. When it’s cold, my Santa hat goes great with my pink Death Bunny pajama pants. Which I sometimes wear out in the boatyard, just for grins.

How about making homemade cards every year? Sometimes they don’t go out until February, but I’ve never bought a Christmas card in my whole life. Our lengthy holiday card list is like the Hotel California. Once you are on it, you’re stuck for life.

And then there are the homemade presents. We’ve made mustard, soap, jam, apple butter, signs, jewelry, baking mixes, bookmarks, spiced nuts, and refrigerator magnets. We’ve burned some very strange CD collections (anybody remember “Goin’ to the Dogs?”). This year, I wrote four whole books.

And then there’s the calendar, a 5-year tradition. It’s a week-long project, because I seem to get sick just after Thanksgiving every year anyway. I might as well sit at the computer and design a calendar showcasing this year’s best photos.

I wish we could give one to every friend, every year. It gets harder to decide how many to print and where to send them. Rumor has it that one family member likes hers so much, she keeps the old ones hanging up and pastes new dates onto them.

The past week on the boat, I’ve been on elf-duty most of the time. I designed the calendars and cards, and Barry helped me assemble and wrap and sign them. We made some goofy presents, burned some silly CDs, and wrapped them in old road maps because I refused to buy wrapping paper. I forgot I was wearing my Santa hat at the post office, and wondered why everyone was smiling at me.

It’s going to be a great Christmas. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks thinking of ways to make people happy, and now the envelopes and packages are winging their way across the continent. My thoughts turn to our friends who are staying in the boatyard for Christmas — John, Philip & Marilyn, Audrey & Ward (whose nickname is Scrooge, but I don’t believe it). What can I do for them? And especially for Barry, who got me the Death Bunny pants?

Generosity — that’s my holiday tradition. Taking the time to let people know I love and appreciate them, no matter how far they are from me and my Santa-meets-the-Death-Bunnies outfit.

New boatyard uniforms

There are many things to be afraid of in the boatyard — rotten balsa, corroded stainless, falling off the ladder, stepping on a copperhead, and coming face to face with a bear are a few. But last night, the really scary things came out for a Halloween party.

Luckily, there was plenty of food to appease them. Actually, since it was a potluck, the scary things brought food! Not scary food, though. This potluck had no blue turkey.

Here are a few of the pictures. As you can see, nobody took the easy route and wore a Tyvek suit or a dust mask. But Audrey came as Randy, and Dick came as Charlie, and John came as Tony, which confused the heck out of people who didn’t know Randy, Charlie, or Tony. It left the rest of us gasping for breath, we were laughing so hard.

Audrey dressed up as a miniature Randy. She was almost as cute as the real Randy!
Audrey dressed up as a miniature Randy. She was almost as cute as the real Randy!
Dick came as Charlie, wearing a shirt that said Tony. He even made the same tasteless jokes as Charlie!
Dick came as Charlie, wearing a shirt that said Tony. He even made the same tasteless jokes as Charlie!
Celeste and Donna, of Celestial, with pointy things on their heads and great makeup.
Celeste and Donna, with pointy things on their heads and great makeup.
Father Charlie had all the props, including the beer and the cigarette. He generated a few tasteless jokes, too.
Father Charlie had all the props, including the beer and the cigarette. He generated a few tasteless jokes, too.
Val and Harold brought the toga theme, which went well with Celeste's Pan look.
Val and Harold brought the toga theme, which went well with Celeste's Pan look.
Is this the result of too much bottom paint? Wait, Scott's boat is not even hauled out!
Is this the result of too much bottom paint? Wait, Scott's boat is not even hauled out!
Another adventure in outrageous costuming! Impossible to eat or drink with the mask, though. That left more for us!
Who was behind the mask and wig? He could be anyone, but he said his name was Barry. Then he went home with the honey bee. What's that about?
This is what we'll all be wearing to work on our boats, instead of those boooooring Tyvek suits.
This is what we'll all be wearing to work on our boats, instead of those boooooring Tyvek suits.
The whole dressed-up gang, complete with jackstands and boats on either side of us. Scary!
The whole dressed-up gang, complete with jackstands and boats on either side of us. Scary!